The stillness surrounds me, broken only by the constant rise and fall of the perennial ringing in my ears. I’ve let the dog outside. Occasionally, she sends her short, high bark into the lingering darkness. Sunlight filters through the trees in weak ripples. Dawn edges over the distant trees, tinging the sleeping houses with its feeble warmth. Through my window I can see the flag. Its small motions tell me that a morning breeze moves through our neighborhood.
I look around me at the furniture which no longer seems to have function. The people who moved through these rooms with casual intention have all continued their motion to beyond, to elsewhere, to other homes and other chairs. Only I remain. Someone called this move “bittersweet” in a message yesterday but I do not see how anyone other than I could feel that way, and I don’t. Instead I dwell in a sense of rightness, almost of urgency. This house and I have made peace with one another. It needs me gone; and I need to be gone. We’re ready to be quit of one another.
I’ve lived here since 1993 and I remember every moment of the life that I made here. Yesterday I found myself thinking of the first time I stepped on the porch of this house. Not the porch that it currently has, mind; but its original screened-in flat-roof porch, the one to which the steps actually ascended with seamless efficiency. I stood looking at a wooden sign on the door, straining to decipher the word. When I finally realized that the plaque bore a surname, and one which I recognized, I turned to the realtor and said, I know these people. And so I did.
I had never been to their home. Our children attended the same daycare at that time. I walked among their neatly organized possessions, wanting to run my fingers along the mantle and study the pictures on the wall. They were short people, the prior owners, and they shared a small closet. His clothes hung from the top, hers from the bottom; beneath, a little step stool rested in a hollow space. I wonder what they would say if they saw how I’ve finished the attic; the ten feet of hanging potential; the dresser spanning one cubby. I think about his three suits, her four dresses, the color-coded Oxfords occupying six meager inches. I think they’d shake their heads and glance at one another, if they could see my excesses and the clutter in the kitchen.
The new porch rises high, majestic with its wooden contours. I stand outside with my coffee and gaze through the upper windows at the rising light. I hear voices now; children pushing wagons down the driveway, a husband calling to me from the van parked at the curb. He wants a beer. Send the cockroaches, he instructs. It’s what he calls the boys playing in the backyard, Patrick, Chris, and Maher.
I beckon to my son, who cradles the bottle and opener against his thin chest. He slowly travels up the sidewalk to his stepfather. I see them speak. A small earnest head bends over the tools with which the man gestures. I find that I have not exhaled; I have not blinked; I have not released the clench of my right hand. I stand in rigid expectation until the boy makes his way back to the house, serious, conveying messages that neither of us understand.
The voices have fallen silent now. I’ve arranged two long shelves of belongings with which to enter the next phase of my life. They’ll be joined by the smallest of my furniture: Two Amish tables; two cedar chests; the Boy Scout trunk; the desk that I bought at a garage sale, the folding top of which makes it perfect for small spaces; two wicker sets of drawers, in graduated sizes; and one rocking chair. Oh: and, incongruously perhaps, my mother-in-law’s tall, ornate secretary, with the little chair in which I always sat during evenings in their living room.
Twelve small boxes of belongings, the accoutrements of an ordinary life; and less than a room’s worth of furniture. When it is loaded, when the last of the rest has been toted away by whoever needs it; when the dust has been swept and the fixtures have all been wiped, rinsed, and polished; I’ll turn the key and walk away, leaving the ghosts to fend for themselves.